For Vermonters looking for a bright spot in the damage caused by the pandemic it might be this: Between 14 million and 23 million Americans intend to move from where they live and work, an astonishing 32 percent increase from this time last year, according to several new studies.

The reason for this mass migration varies, but the central tenet is that an increasing number of workers are no longer required to show up at the office to do their work. They can do their work from home, or anywhere they’d like.

To say that’s liberating is an understatement. Those living in New York City, or San Francisco, for example, can keep their jobs but increase what they save by moving to places more affordable. A large percentage — 20 percent-plus — of those who say they are moving live in the nation’s largest cities.

While that might cause some angst in the cities affected it seems there is a bigger picture to be considered.

• First, if the pandemic continues unabated for another winter and if there is another shutdown of the economy, this move toward remote work will be solidified. A couple of months is one thing, two years is quite another.

• Second, people are putting their health and safety above all else. They are looking for space and less congestion. That bodes well for states like Vermont; we’re within easy driving distance of these metropolitan areas and space? Well, we have a lot of it. We also have the reputation of being among the healthiest of states.

• Third, those considering leaving also note that being closer to their extended families is become a bigger consideration. So, is a better quality of life. It’s as if the next generation has decided it needs less of their parents’ materialism and more of their grandparents [or great grandparents’] values. The people polled were telling the pollsters they were reevaluating their life’s priorities.

• Fourth, it’s probably a given that the average age of those responding is on the younger end of the workforce scale, which means they are figuring out ways to use technology to make this change in their lives work. That means we’re looking at an acceleration in how technology is used productively, something that would not have happened if not forced by the pandemic. Or at least as fast.

• Fifth, while it might be difficult to calculate, if we see people leave the large metropolitan areas for more rural environs, and more modest lives, isn’t that a step forward? Does that not make us a more livable place, with more sustainable lifestyles?

Just as the Great Depression scarred an entire generation, mentally embedding the need to save, the Covid-19 experience will leave its own indelible mark. Even with a vaccine, many will continue to wear masks. Many will shun crowded venues. There will be a fear of the unseeable.

If, however, that same public becomes less materialistic, more health conscious, more focused on the quality of one’s life and the need to maintain close family connections, if that same public begins to fill our rural spaces, leaving our metropolitan areas more livable and affordable, then years from now we may look back understanding the pandemic’s silver lining.

This could also be a story that plays heavily to Vermont’s advantage.

by Emerson Lynn

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